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After Peng Shuai Case: Nailing Colors to the Mast: IOC Must Make Protection of Athletes and Compliance with Human Rights Responsibilities Its First Priority

Berlin, December 6, 2021. The case of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai and the IOC’s subsequent actions have caused great concern and dismay to Athleten Deutschland. The questionable handling of this case has renewed our doubts about the IOC’s motives guiding its actions. The seemingly intentional omission of Peng Shuai’s three-week disappearance and of the allegations of abuse raised by her in both of its statements (here and here) gives rise to concerns that the IOC attaches greater importance to its political and economic interests than to the protection of athletes.

The case of Peng Shuai confirms a recurring pattern in dealing with athletes whose fundamental rights are violated and who suffer violence, discrimination, persecution, or repression: The IOC is evasive, hesitant or rejects responsibility. For Athleten Deutschland, such incidents have raised questions that go far beyond the Peng Shuai case.

Maximilian Klein, responsible for international sport policy, demands: “The world’s most powerful organization in sport must make it unequivocally clear that the protection of athletes, and not the protection of economic and political interests is its top priority. The IOC must now nail its colors to the mast, live up to its human rights responsibilities and finally act in accordance with its ideals.”

Ahead of this week’s IOC Executive Board meeting and the Olympic Summit, the following statement takes Peng Shuai’s case as a starting point and addresses the protection of athletes at the upcoming Winter Games, the IOC’s human rights due diligence obligations in general and with regard to Beijing 2022. The IOC must take, amongst others, the following actions to break its silence and to restore its credibility in line with its ideals:

  • Provide evidence of Peng Shuai’s safety and insist on an independent investigation,
  • Make protection of athletes the guiding principle,
  • Ensure safety and protection at the Winter Games,
  • Commit to human rights and implement a human rights strategy,
  • Publish a human rights risk assessment and disclose China’s written assurances on human rights at the Winter Games; and
  • Provide clarity on untapped room for manoeuvre on human rights standards at the Winter Games.

As major funders of sport, states and sponsors should also hold the IOC and the federations accountable and insist on compliance with their human rights due diligence obligations. Compliance with these must be a basic prerequisite for the support of sponsors or the state. We are hopeful that the forthcoming German government will make a substantial contribution, both nationally and internationally, to strengthening human rights elements in sport and thus to the fulfilment of human rights.

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